Where Have All the Powers Gone?

EDITORIAL, 2 Sep 2013

#288 | Johan Galtung

The state, the power unit inside a country also called a state, has been the center of power in the anarchic state system:

  • economic-financial power (state central bank, currency, choice of economic policy, for growth an-or distribution, social power);
  • military power, armed forces, police;
  • cultural power, the world view-religion of the dominant nation; and
  • political power, the legislative, executive, judiciary.

But the states, except for the biggest ones, China, India, USA, Indonesia, Russia are waning in salience.  What happens then to the four powers?  Answer: by and large they go upstairs.

Take Norway as an example: a small country, only 5 million. Member of a regional military alliance, NATO, and de facto member of a regional union, EU through the European Economic Space, EES, foreign, military and important domestic policy decisions traditionally handled by the state are now decided regionally, often by (imposed) consensus.  Afghanistan for instance; the prime minister: “When NATO goes in we go in, when NATO goes out we go out”.  EU directives are implemented.

What, then, does the Norwegian parliament decide?  Domestic policy, down to the nitty-gritty that could be handled in a pluralist way by provinces-municipalities.  And what do they decide?  Not much, they carry out decisions, undermining municipal autonomy; making municipal elections almost meaningless.  Like state level elections to the EU parliament, people say: “All is decided up there anyhow”.

Take EU as an example, a huge region, 500 million+, with 7% of the world population producing 25 percent of the world’s wealth.  “The European Union is the world’s largest economy /with the non-Euro countries/ and, with 16 percent of exports, the first trading power, ahead of China and the US”.  But, with record unemployment, strong BRICS competition, very high energy dependency, 90 million above 65.

And, 50 % of the world social expenditure, “7-25-50” as José Ignacio Torreblanca points out in an article with that title.[i]

And, 50% of the world’s military expenditure is by the USA; powerful EU has military decision-making moving upwards, transported by the US Trojan Horse in the EU conglomerate, the United Kingdom.

And, behind the use of military power are economic-cultural-political considerations.  A considerable power delegation upwards.

Take democracy.  It is part of the theory of the state, rule by the consent of the ruled. Take a ministry in a small country attuned to their opposite number ministries in other countries in the region, addressing the same issues with expertise, much to compare, to   learn, to coordinate.  The voice of the people via parliament becomes weak, almost inaudible, in comparison; besides, people speak opinion while ministries speak law-facts.  So, goodbye democracy, goodbye for now.

This “supersidiarity” is clearly the opposite of the subsidiarity principle of handling problems at the lowest level possible.  We get:

  • economic power to IMF-ECB-EU, to IMF-World Bank-US Federal Reserve;
  • military power to NATO-AMPO-SCO, meaning to hegemonical power;
  • cultural power to civilizations, meaning to regions; West sees less threat to national cultures, more to Western civilizations as a whole;
  • political power to alliances and regions, often by consensus.

Has God descended on earth, omnipresent through the four powers, omnipotent, omniscient by spying, presumably benevolent as regions?     Is this better or worse than the state system we are leaving behind?

Where would subsidiarity–the lowest level possible–bring us?  The alternative to regionalism-globalism is not localism but all our levels, the world as a community of locally self-reliant communities, a community of states, a community of regions and global governance; pushing power downstairs, down to the people and to nature, listening to its voice.  With the UN as a confederation of states and regions.

We are facing enormous threats to life outside the state system:

A Basic Paradigm for Massive Killing





[1] NATURE slaughter of “beasts,

savages, wilderness”



[2] GENDER killing women:




patriarchy as

prison of women,

putting them

“in their place”



Privileging the        abortion



schools as ghetto

pension as ghetto

[4] RACE


Controlling dangerous eradication









Controlling dangerous









– military

– economic

– political

– cultural

Controlling dangerous










genocide narrowly defined state as prison of nations ruled

by “majority”




war (killing for

food, sacrifice, conquest)



“pariah” states

There are positives: gender, race and state, big killers all, are becoming less salient; but generation, class and nation more.  Generation is more structural by taking the older out of society instead of celebrating their experience and wisdom. The problems are daunting; they call for all six levels of handling, in cooperation.

However, the conclusion so far, freely after Pete Seeger et al:

Where have all the powers gone?
          Sort of passing.
          Where have all the powers gone?
          Short while ago.
          Where have all the powers gone?
          Gone upstairs, everyone
          Oh, when will they ever learn?
          Oh, when will they ever learn.


[i]El País, English edition, 29-07-2013.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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